Slow and steady as she goes

This summer has been one of the most consistently wonderful weather-wise in my memory. I do have faint memories of when I was a young fella, swimming almost daily in our neighbor’s pool from at least early July through the Labor Day weekend – and that was way back in the early 1960s. I didn’t care much for the cold water of an unheated pool, so at least one summer, way back when, must have been similar to this year with day after day of sunny and warm weather.

Even a small garden space has room for a path through beds filled with dwarf conifers and other exciting plants.

Our spring began on time this year and we have enjoyed bumper crops in our raised bed vegetable garden. I’ll even be harvesting a water melon soon (which is very rare in this area – at least for me)! With great crops of peas, beans, cucumbers, lettuce, basil and tomatoes, we have enjoyed heart-healthy eating all summer.

Our deck is alive with over 30 dwarf conifer and flower-filled containers. These warm summer evenings have been enjoyed snuggled with my beloved wife as we have listened to frogs, crickets and the occasional coyote serenade the otherwise quiet evenings, gazing at the stars or reading our books.

A beautiful way to fill a corner with tons of color and excitement!

New construction of the larger garden has been very slow this season and I have achieved far less than I had hoped early on. But, life happens and I have found it to be much less stressful to go with the flow of what life presents to you rather than insist on being the one in control. Steadily working through the challenges as they arise, we have made some strides in achieving our garden transforming goals. Not rushing into some of my landscape projects has allowed me to get to know the property a little more and I have made adjustments to my original plans.

Wouldn’t this be a great view right off your back patio or deck? Who needs lawn grass? It’s just something you have to mow and water all summer long!

In the meantime, we have enjoyed visiting other gardens and absorbed all kinds of ideas and inspiration to apply to our new garden space. Please enjoy these inspirational photos from the display gardens at Iseli Nursery!

Conifer Lover

A surprise encounter

Since moving into our new neighborhood, my wife and I have enjoyed taking regular walks. Not only is the activity very heart-healthy (and insisted upon by my wife) but it is actually quite enjoyable. Our neighborhood includes two city parks within its borders and is tucked away between two major creeks that feed the local river.

I’ll bet this was a cute little tree, 27 years ago when the house was built. The big tree was planted in the wrong place. At over 20 feet tall and 12 feet wide, it was simply planted too close to the sidewalk.

Since moving here, I have noticed that most folks walking through the neighborhood tend to walk out in the street, which is fine since there isn’t a lot of traffic, but being a safety conscious citizen, I have always believed the miles of sidewalks installed in our city were put in place for a reason. Now that I am an avid pedestrian in our neighborhood, I understand why so many folks prefer the street: Poor landscape design planning and/or maintenance.

Our neighborhood is about 30 years old, so I suspect that most of the landscapes are close to that age here as well. That means all those nice little plants that looked so cute in the front yard, along the sidewalk, are largely overgrown and many of them obstruct the way for comfortable pedestrian travel. You might imagine my narrative (which my wife patiently endured) as we walked those first view adventures through the neighborhood, was filled with my expert opinion regarding well-designed landscaping and the intelligent use of dwarf conifers.

Much to my surprise and frustration, on the return trip to our home, I discovered that the large Colorado Blue Spruce planted in the front corner of our property was partially obscuring our freedom to pass by on the sidewalk. I couldn’t help but to think of several, slower growing alternatives that would have been far greater choices to plant in this location (see below*).

The following day, I gathered my three-legged orchard ladder and a collection of pruning tools; my hand pruners held at my hip by a holster on my belt, my large loppers, two sizes of pruning saws and my electric chainsaw on a stick (which has proved to be one of the handiest tools I have ever used) and I made my way out to the large tree.

Ordinarily, I would shudder at the thought of disfiguring a beautiful conifer in this fashion…

Looking the tree over, I could see that the previous caregiver of the landscape had been shearing the sidewalk side of this tree for a number of years as it was a very compact congestion of branches and foliage from  ground level to just above my head. As I circled the tree, its natural, more open habit was evident, and it was in this loose branching that I made my approach to begin the job of limbing the tree up above my head, all around its trunk. Ordinarily, I would shudder at the thought of disfiguring a beautiful conifer in this fashion, but frankly, it is just the first step in the eventual total removal of the tree that is overgrown for the space in which it was planted.

Several hours later, I stood in the street, sweat pouring down my face, needles, pitch and other tree debris decorating my work clothes as I inspected the job I had just completed. I noticed a neighbor, walking his three dogs, strolling on the sidewalk in my direction. I became pleased with myself that I had done the good deed of clearing the way for them so that they could walk, safely, and without obstruction on the sidewalk in front of my house.

I walked closer to my front yard, which was now 80% covered with piles of the branches that I had removed from the tree, thinking that the fun part of my job was over. I was looking for my large insulated bottle of iced tea and was planning to sit on the front steps and rest. As I sat, looking through the piles of branches and seeing the opened up front yard, I began to imagine the transformation that would take place. I visualized widening and lengthening the two planting beds that now exist.

Imagining the expanded planting space, my mind became occupied with the incredibly large number of choices available to me in designing this new front yard space. I became excited at the thought of dusting off the rototiller to begin turning old lawn grass into lush mounds of soil for planting all kinds of exciting colorful conifers…

But first, I need to properly dispose of these huge piles of spruce branches…

Conifer Lover

PS. *Here are some better choices for this same garden space. All of these conifers are slower growing and/or have a smaller footprint than the seedling spruce I will be replacing. Which would be your choice for this prime corner spot in the front garden? Let me know in the comments.

I have been bit hard

The Garden Bug has bit me early this year and I am very anxious and excited to get going on the new garden! I must admit, though, having to wait to begin breaking the soil and getting serious about working in my new garden is good… or bad, depending on one’s perspective. Although I do have some definite ideas and plans about how I will design my new garden spaces – both the strictly ornamental area and the productive, food producing area – the longer I wait to begin, the more opportunity I have to make changes. Which, as I said, can be good or bad.

“Hey Ed!” He greeted, “What do a dwarf and a miniature conifer have in common?”

From my perspective, allowing my imagination to flow is always a good thing, so changing my plan as new ideas form is quite fun. On the other hand, if I do not stick to a definite plan, I’ll never make any progress when I can finally break ground. One of the great things about the way I approach gardening is that nothing is forever. I can always move things around if I need to as the garden grows and matures. At this stage in my life, I think it would be best to have a good plan to begin with since I don’t have as many years in my future to make changes as I did 40, 30, 20, even 10 years ago. I am inclined to be more content with my garden layout so that I can spend my time enjoying the space rather than continually changing and re-working it.

Beautiful blue foliage of the perfectly symmetrical Fritsche Engelmann spruce make this tree worth waiting for.

So, although I do have some definite plans for the general layout of my new garden, I remain open to be flexible regarding many of the exact plants I will use in the design. For example, I took advantage of the amazingly spring-like weather in Boring, Oregon today and decided I would absorb some inspiration from my friends at Iseli Nursery by strolling through the Jean Iseli Memorial Garden. Thankfully, my long-time association with the folks there, I can pop in to get updates on what is new in the nursery trade.

As I arrived at the front desk to check in, I was stopped by one of the enthusiastic CSRs who happened to be walking by on his way to… well, wherever.

“Hey Ed!” He greeted, “What do a dwarf and a miniature conifer have in common?”

My eyes rolled up a bit as I began to think about some specific characteristics of common dwarf and miniature conifers. Growth rate was the first thing to come to mind, but also often times they may share smaller needles size and certainly more compact growth…

Not really wanting an answer he said, “Very little.” and continued on his way around the corner with his “hehehehe” fading the further he proceeded.

I thought for sure I heard the typical thump of a drum and cymbal crash (ba-dum, crash) often associated with comedic one-liners.

I smiled, and as I turned, there was Mr. Smith waiting for me.

“Hey Ed, follow me, I want to show you something.”

Out the door I followed my old friend and associate to the north-west section of the Memorial garden. We chatted as we strolled in the warm, late-winter sunshine and as we arrived at the destination of our little tour, standing before me was a beautiful blue spruce. I thought for a moment or two about this tree. I remembered it being much smaller (when this section of the garden was planted in 2008) and tried to think of how I had missed giving it much notice since that time.

The tree was gorgeous! I looked at my host and simply said, “Wow.”

“I know” he replied.

We both stood there for a minute or two and I finally mentioned how I hadn’t realized what a pretty form this new cultivar would mature into when it was first planted those eight years ago.

“Me too” he said with a big smile. “We don’t have a whole lot of these sold, or even available yet, but I think we need to let people know about this one!”

He assured me that there will be some plants landing in independent garden centers all across the country this spring, but it will be a few years before they have a large inventory. My thoughts went immediately to whether or not they might have one available to spare for an old friend of the nursery since this beautiful tree would fit perfectly into my new garden!

Picea engelmannii ‘Fritsche’ is a very lovely cultivar of the Engelmann Spruce. Its blue foliage rivals the color of many other Colorado Blue spruce selections. With its symmetrical, broad upright habit, its full, attractive form, great color and superb cold hardiness, it will be a winning choice for many areas of the USA and Europe.

I really love the way its lateral branchlets fall downward from the main branches creating a fully-clothed effect. I especially look forward to seeing the tree mature in the decades to come.

Now, how am I going to talk them out of a small one for my new garden?….

Conifer Lover

The weather is teasing me

We have gone from heavy, down-pouring rain, to icy-cold, blue skies and strong east winds, to freezing rain and then calm, sunny, pleasant-feeling days. Every time the day is sunny and with just a breeze, I become very hopeful that more and more of these days will arrive soon. I have ordered and am waiting for my seed catalogs—ready to plan my new veggie garden. I have created lists of dwarf and miniature conifers (and other exciting plants) to begin to seek and acquire. The new property has been walked and measured, contemplated and sketched and I am ready for a string of nice weather to begin breaking ground!

I know, it’s only January—but I am excited to begin gardening in my new soil!

My new place is much smaller than where I came from, but large enough to plant a corner of the back, north-end of the property, with some large trees to help break up the wind, provide some privacy from the green-space and to visually blend in with the large stand of native trees just beyond.

Picea abies ‘Rubra Spicata’ dazzles the eyes in early spring.

I mentioned a couple of posts back that I have acquired a few, two to three year old seedlings of some native trees. Those largest growers will be planted near the edge of my property since they will grow very fast and become quite large. For the next layer of trees, in toward the house, I have been considering some large conifer cultivars which have been selected for their unique color characteristics. There are so many candidates for me to consider, and I have very limited space, so I will need to be satisfied with choosing just a few trees for this space.

Today, I have picked out two trees that will make a nice transition from the “wild” garden to the more refined space which will be dominated by generally slow growing conifers and other small trees, shrubs, flowering plants and herbs. Today’s trees are perfect for this transition space because they will be medium-large growers and characteristically be suited to grow in the background of the other specialized selections in the main part of the new garden.

Picea abies ‘Rubra Spicata’ is a fast, large growing cultivar of the Norway spruce. During most of the year, for most people, it will appear indistinguishable from the standard Norway spruce, but in springtime…..

A large tree with a stunning springtime surprise!

In Springtime, its strong flush of new foliage will push a bright, blood-red color. As the new growth extends, the color becomes less intense and will appear a reddish-brown color just before it becomes dark green. The dark green color will last through summer, autumn and winter, waiting to surprise us all again the following spring with its vibrant new growth. For much of the year, ‘Rubra Spicata’ will function as a size transition down from the larger Douglas fir, bringing the eye from the forest beyond, to my younger, smaller trees and ease the view to my dwarf garden plants. The added spring bonus color will be a delightful reminder that winter is official a season of the past, and exciting new life—and color—is just ahead!

Bright, butter-yellow new foliage on Picea glauca ‘Mac’s Gold’ is a dazzling sight in spring!

There are several conifer cultivars that, like ‘Rubra Spicata’ blast themselves into spring with bright color and then slowly fade to green for most of the year. I have mentioned others in past posts, such as Picea orientalis ‘Aureospicata’, which is a favorite large tree and will very likely find a home in my new garden. My next featured choice is a cultivar that is still very rare in the trade and will be so worth the wait to acquire. Picea glauca ‘Mac’s Gold’, may not be available for a couple of years, but it will make a dandy transition tree for my garden and will be such a thrill when I do find that it has become available at my favorite local independent garden center!

A beautiful spring-time surprise!

‘Mac’s Gold’ has small, grayish-green needles covering the branches of its tall, open-growing form. When its new growth emerges in early spring, it pushes forth in a bright, butter-yellow color. As the tree matures, small, bright purple-pink cones will also be displayed providing and additional dappling of color. Before long, as the new foliage begins to harden, it slowly becomes green and the tree may fade into its role in the background. Like ‘Rubra Spicata’, during the spring, it will add dazzling color to the background treeline, and then step out of the spotlight as other plants enjoy their own spotlights through the adjoining seasons.

While I wait for the weather (and season) to catch up to my enthusiasm, I will continue to make plans and spend some time cleaning and possibly repairing my garden tools and equipment. I want to be ready to go when spring-time truly does arrive!

Conifer Lover

Enjoy life while you can!

Life is too short!

Almost 15 months ago I suffered a heart attack. Thankfully, I had recently read about the different warning signs that men and women may experience and that list instantly popped into my mind. My first symptom seemed somewhat normal and with the pain in the back of my neck, I presumed that I needed a simple visit to my chiropractor. A few moments later I noticed a very unusual sensation in my chest – not pain – just a very strange sensation that I had never experienced before.

I wondered to myself, “Am I having a heart attack?”

Not wanting that to be the case and yet aware that I may be leaving the house abruptly and going on an overnight visit, I decided to close the windows on that warm, late summer day. I gathered my wallet and keys and returned to my chair feeling a little light-headed.

Dwarf and miniature conifers can be easily grown and enjoyed for many years in containers.

Another moment later and I began to experience a mild but sharp pain shooting down my jaw and I said to myself, “That’s four, I’m calling 911.”

I made the call and wheeled my office chair out by the front door, which was already open due to the lovely warm day. A very, very slow ten minutes later the paramedics arrived and seemed to stroll slowly up my walkway to discover me sitting by the door.

“Hi Guys. Glad you’re here!”

After connecting me to their equipment, one of the medics casually informed me that he believed I was having a heart attack.

“I concur!” I replied, becoming a little anxious that we weren’t moving more expeditiously.

In what seemed far too long, they hooked me up and off we went, sirens blaring, to the best coronary hospital in the area. I wondered as we moved through light traffic on that Sunday early afternoon, why we seemed to be moving so slowly. I thought that the key to survival with heart attack victims was quick response and action!

Even folks with very little garden space may enjoy the joy of gardening with dwarf and miniature conifers!

When I arrived at the Cath Lab, I was greeted with smiles and the good news that the team was all warmed up since I was the 4th guest that day. I was taken into the Cath Lab and the procedure was done to unblock two arteries. Everyone along the way told me that I had done everything right and there was a huge chance for survival and very little damage. Only about an hour had gone by from the time I called 911 to when the nice nurse wheeled me to the room where I spent the next 48 hours or so.

Of the 4 heart attack patients they saved that warm, summer Sunday, I was the first to check out and return home to rest.

You just never know when your time will come to move beyond life on this world. I strongly believe that one should always extend love and kindness to those they encounter and one should embrace every opportunity to have fun. I had an opportunity to talk about my garden and dwarf conifers with my nurse. Even though she was over-worked and stressed with her own struggles in life, I was able to share some gardening stories with her in the wee hours of the morning.

Dwarf and miniature conifers can make the best containers look even better! The year-round color and texture of conifers sure is better than messy mounds of brown, dead foliage through the winter!

She seemed to enjoy the thought of adding dwarf and miniature conifers to the containers on her deck. She loves plants, and at this time in her life she simply doesn’t have time to care for a large garden. She does have time for several containers of mixed plants on her deck and she cherishes her quiet time with a warm cuppa brew in that small space. I told her about the year-round fun to be had when filling those containers with dwarf and miniature conifers.

Even the smallest balcony can become a calming and therapeutic space with dwarf and miniature conifers!

I believe it was healing for me to share about my love of conifers and I believe it gave my nurse a new perspective on how she might enjoy gardening in the limited space that she can currently manage. Her eyes brightened as she began to think about the possibilities available to her in making that small space even more therapeutic until her life calms to the place where she can extend her own joy of gardening off of the deck and out into her yard.

Life is short – let’s enjoy it and bring as much joy as possible into the lives of those around us through a friendly smile—and gardening!

Conifer Lover